First Rate: Receivers/Tight Ends

The last two opponents on ND’s regular-season slate, Virginia Tech and USC, have the most established receiving corps. Like several ’15 foes, the Irish are banking on youth.

13) Edgar Poe (Army) – While the Cadets can brag about having the most literary of names at the wideout position, Poe (16 receptions, 441 yards, 27.6 avg., 6 TDs) also is the only threat in the passing game. No. 2 on the Army reception list last year was RB John Trainor with eight.

12) Jamir Tillman (Navy) – It’s rare that a Navy wideout is this accomplished with the stats to back it up. Tillman caught 29 passes for 597 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 20.6 yards per catch in ‘15. No other offensive player had double-figure receptions, and now QB Keenan Reynolds, a fairly accomplished passer for a triple-option star, is gone. Chances are Tillman won’t match last year’s numbers.

11) Michael Rector, Francis Owusu (Stanford) – Top targets Devon Cajuste (27 receptions, 383 yards, 3 TDs) and TE Austin Hooper (34-438-6) are gone from a passing attack that accentuated RB Christian McCaffrey when they weren’t handing it to him. That means the productive Rector (34-559-7) – who scored a TD once every five receptions in ’15 – moves to the forefront for young QB Keller Chryst. Owusu (13-175-1) needs to take his game to the next level. Former Notre Dame recruit Dalton Schultz ascends to the Stanford tight end throne as a sophomore.

10) John Burt, Armanti Foreman, Andrew Beck (Texas) – The low rating has as much if not more to do with the erratic QB situation in Austin as it does the pass-receiving personnel. The Longhorns lost Daje Johnson (37 receptions, 415 yards, 1 TD), but the productive Burt (28-457-2), who had an 84-yard scoring grab from Jerrod Heard vs. Kansas, offers 6-foot-6 length.

Foreman (11-182-2) will take on a greater role while TE Beck (8-77-0) is a solid option for a young QB like Shane Buechele. Early-enrollee Collin Johnson likely will factor in at receiver and perhaps ascend to the complementary role to Burt.

9) Stacy Coley, Standish Dobard, David Njoku, Christopher Herndon IV (Miami) – Significant productivity walked out the door with the loss of Rashawn Scott (52 receptions, 695 yards, 4 TDs) and Herb Waters (41-624-1). Coley (47-689-4) returns to headline an otherwise TE-dominated receiving corps.

They’ll all benefit from the experience gained in 2014-15 by junior QB Brad Kaaya, who has three TEs to accentuate. Among Dobard, Njoku and Herndon, the Hurricanes had a combined 47 receptions for 689 yards and three TDs in ’15. Braxton Berrios (12-86-0) joins Coley at wideout along with a handful of underclassmen, including former Irish recruit Lawrence Cager.

8) T.J. Rahming, Anthony Nash, Erich Schneider (Duke) – With the Achilles injury to QB Thomas Sirk, the Blue Devil passing game may not be able to take advantage of the one-two punch of 6-foot-5 senior Nash (32 receptions, 475 yards, 1 TD) and sophomore Rahming (43-571-2). The departed duo of Max McCaffrey and Johnell Barnes (86-1,054-7) did most of the damage last year. TE Schneider (15-123-3) will be an attractive underneath option for the quarterback (likely junior Parker Boehme). It’s tough to project with Duke’s wideout corps/passing game with the uncertainty surrounding Sirk.

7) R.J. Shelton, Josiah Price (Michigan State) – The Spartan wideout corps, which struggled with consistency/drops a few years back, came of age as it grew with QB Connor Cook. Now Cook, as well as Aaron Burbridge (85 receptions, 1,258 yards, 7 TDs) and Macgarrett Kings Jr. (40-0519-5), are gone.

The go-to tag now belongs to Shelton (43-503-4) while Price (23-267-6) looks to add to his Spartan record for TDs by a TE (16). After that, it’s all about the youngsters, somewhat comparable to Notre Dame. Sophomore Felton Davis III (2-50-0) and freshman Donnie Corley are expected to play a significant role, as could TE complement Jamal Lyles (8-133-1)

6) Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Robinson, Alizé Jones (Notre Dame) – The top three receivers are gone and the guy at the top, Will Fuller, changed the entire complexion of the game every time he stepped on the field. Chris Brown was an underrated third-down complement to Fuller while Amir Carlisle was a three-catch-a-game slot option.

Now it’s up to Hunter (28 receptions, 363 yards, 2 TDs) whose previous numbers don’t reflect the promise/impact of his performance this spring. From there, however, no one is really established, particularly if Robinson (16-200-1) calls it a career, as expected.

TE Jones (13-190-0) looks like a star in the making, but has yet to establish himself. Durham Smythe would appear to be poised to emerge at TE. Some combination of C.J. Sanders, Corey Holmes, Miles Boykin, Equanimeous St. Brown and Miles Boykin will fill in the gaps, but none of those five are close to being established. Early-entry freshman Kevin Stepherson and Chase Claypool could make an early impact. The great equalizer to all the youth and inexperience is QB DeShone Kizer, who should build upon a dynamic first-year performance.

5) Jerico Richardson, Hasaan Henderson, Wyatt Demps, Jarred Gipson (Nevada) – The nation’s 113th-ranked passing offense will benefit from a) OC Tim Cramsey’s arrival from Montana State and b) a capable, established receiving corps despite playing in an offense that had two 1,000-yard rushers in ’15.

The one-two punch of Richards (68 receptions, 750 yards, 5 TDs) and 6-foot-5 Henderson (52-741-4) will come into Notre Dame Stadium for the home-opener vastly underrated, particularly if QB Tyler Stewart can build upon a steady if not spectacular junior season in ’15. TE Gipson (19-247-5) is an established red-zone threat while Demps (27-232-0) offers more size (6-foot-4) at wideout. Converted cornerback Ahki Muhammad is potentially another weapon.

4) Jaylen Samuels, Jumichael Ramos, Nyheim Hines, Bra’Lon Cherry (N.C. State) – The most underrated receiving corps on the Irish schedule will get a boost from innovative OC Eli Drinkwitz, a Gus Malzahn disciple, who replaced Mike Sanford as OC at Boise State when Sanford came to Notre Dame. Samuels (65 receptions, 597 yards, 7 TDs), who is as much running back as he is receiver, is listed officially as a TE at 5-foot-11, 223 pounds. Ramos (34-457-3) is the top returning wideout. Hines (20-256-1) and Cherry (22-288-0) should be ready to expand their games. The same for Maurice Trowell and Johnathan Alston, who combined for 30 receptions and three scores last year. Freshman TE Thaddeus Moss, son of Randy, could make an early impact.

Of course, the pass-receiving promise depends upon the development at QB where Jacoby Brissett is gone and 6-foot-5 sophomore Jalan McClendon takes over.

3) Steve Ishmael, Erv Philips, Brisley Estime, Josh Parris (Syracuse) – A hurry-up spread offense and some stability in the system with new HC Dino Babers will benefit this talented group of receivers, which is led by Ishmael (39 receptions, 570 yards, 7 TDs) – a sturdy 6-foot-2, 202-pound junior. It could be a breakout year for Estime (17-293-2) with his move to the slot. Philips (29-286-5) is another weapon Babers hopes to unveil while TE Parris (21-140-0) will be the beneficiary of the offensive movement in the passing game.

2) Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, Bucky Hodges (Virginia Tech) – There is no more established one-two-three punch at the two wideout positions/tight end on Notre Dame’s 2016 schedule than the trio the Hokies offer.

Ford (75 receptions, 1,164 yards, 11 TDs), a 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior, is the second-most accomplished wideout on the Irish slate behind USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster. Ford’s complement with comparable size at wideout is classmate Phillips (49-582-2). Balancing the attack is Hodges, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound junior tight end, who turned 40 receptions into six touchdowns last season.

The only concern for Virginia Tech at wideout is depth, where nothing was established in ’15 beyond the frontline performers.

1) JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rogers, Adoree Jackson, Steven Mitchell (USC) – Last year’s pass catchers are this year’s pass catchers with Smith-Schuster (89 receptions, 1,454 yards, 10 TDs) leading the way. The rest of Cody Kessler’s completions were fairly equally distributed among Mitchell (37-335-4), Rogers (28-289-3) and Jackson (27-414-2). The Trojans goal-line weapon is TE Taylor McNamara, who caught just 12 passes, but scored four times. There’s also De’Quan Hampton and Isaac Whitney to add to the wide receiver mix. As usual, there’s no shortage of skilled talent for the Trojans.

1. USC (6 – QB 3rd, RB 2nd, WR 1st)
2. Notre Dame (10 – QB 1st, RB 3rd, WR 6th)
3. Stanford (17 – QB 5th, RB 1st, WR 11th)
4. Virginia Tech (18 – QB 9th, RB 7th, WR 2nd)
5t. Michigan St. (19 – QB 8th, RB 4th, WR 7th)
5t. Texas (19 – QB 4th, RB 5th, WR 10th)
7t. Nevada (20 – QB 7th, RB 8th, WR 5th)
7t. N.C. State (20 – QB 10th, RB 6th, WR 4th)
7t. Syracuse (20 – QB 6th, RB 11th,  WR 3rd )
10. Miami (21 – QB 2nd, RB 10th,  WR 9th)
11. Duke (28 -- QB 11th, RB 9th, WR 8th)
12. Navy (37 – QB 13th, RB 12th, WR 12th)
13. Army (38 – QB 12th, RB 13th, WR 13th) Top Stories